Dear Friends in Christ:
Lord God, our refuge and strength, when raging waters rise up against your holy city, watch over it and keep it safe. Make us still in your presence, and bring an end to war and violence, that all people may dwell in safety along the river that flows in the city of God; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(Prayer for Psalm 46: Evangelical Lutheran Worship)
Tuesday morning, March 17, 2020, seventy-five rostered/authorized leaders and other NT-NL leadership joined in a Zoom call to pray together, discuss synod policies and recommendations, and share resources for this challenging time.
We began in prayer and were reminded that in this crisis our mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed is made manifest in our care and concern for the most vulnerable in our midst
As such, it is imperative leaders and communities do all we can not to be a cause of this virus spreading further. NT-NL has wide geography and diverse demographics. I encouraged leaders to know that the right answer for their community is the one that is prayerfully developed by congregational leadership in conversation with local county public health providers. However, as bishop, it is important that I give general guidelines and counsel.
In this time, we have new guidelines for synod staff:
- Synod staff will be working from home, with one exception isolated in our office.
- All in-person meetings (including our weekly staff meeting) will be moved online or conference call.
- Significant travel is suspended for March and potentially into April.
- Synod Assembly will likely be postponed until the Fall, on recommendation of ELCA Churchwide and in coordination with Paul Quinn College and the Lorenzo Hotel. (Registration has been suspended for now, and we will notify everyone once a final decision has been made, including an update on registration fees already paid.)
And recommendations for congregations:
- Strongly recommend congregations cancel in-person worship through at least April 5.
- No in-person gatherings of more than 10 people total.
- If congregation continues in-person worship despite recommendation…
- Food/beverage service should be suspended.
- Communion practices examined or communion suspended.
- A checklist from King County (WA) Public Health was provided as resource.
This is an ever-changing situation, and as such, we should be prepared that in-person worship may need to be suspended into April and potentially past Easter. Moving into this uncharted territory, we recognize the vital importance of holistic stewardship practices. Cancelling in-person worship and other gatherings will have a significant impact on the spiritual life of the community. Stewardship of our communities through this time then involves worship, care of community, and facing honestly financial realities.
There are a multitude of resources on a special page on the NT-NL website built specifically for this time. https://www.ntnl.org/resources/covid-19/. These include specific resources for how to facilitate online worship and other gatherings. https://get.tithe.ly/blog/virtual-church-live-streaming For some of our congregations, moving online for worship is beyond their technical capabilities. As such, we have also created a page with information about congregations that are already offering, or beginning to offer, online offerings. https://www.ntnl.org/online-worship/
Care for Community is an essential priority of our church. We discussed and shared a variety of ways that the congregation can ensure care for both congregation members and ensure we remember to turn outward towards God’s world and the wider community. Ideas of ways to serve your community during this crisis are available at https://www.ntnl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-19-Opportunities-and-Ideas-for-Service.pdf.
Our financial lives are also tied up in our understanding of stewardship. All that we have is God’s, and we are called to give abundantly to the mission of our church and world. The cancelling of in-person worship will have an impact on the financial realities of congregations, the synod, and Briarwood. Congregations should be sure to soberly examine their financial picture and check on potential insurance coverage for such a crisis. The Synod financial leadership is actively doing this and making decisions to create flexibility and cash flow for coming months.
Our Synod Communicator, Jason O’Neill, shared options and resources for moving giving online through our relationship with tithe.ly, https://get.tithe.ly/elca. The NT-NL synod stewardship team will be working on resources and creative ideas, such as potential for an online generosity project program, suggesting ways to creatively connect, and resources to remind people to pray and give to the mission of their community.
The decisions made by the Briarwood board and leadership to pay down debt, and the strong 2019 financial results, have this significant NT-NL ministry in a favorable position to weather cancellations and potential disruptions to summer camp. However, the potential loss of retreat revenue mean challenges are ahead, and we would encourage congregations and individuals to consider a special gift to Briarwood in this time. http://www.briarwoodretreat.org/ways-to-give
Leading adaptively in crisis requires clear identification of the challenges we face and the resources we have to face them. We then work with community members to gain support, communicate expectations, and share the work. Ultimately, with the goal of moving quickly and responding generously as we proclaim God’s good news. This is, I believe, a time for us to adaptively learn, change, and grow as leaders in the contexts in which we are planted. To do this, we also must ensure care for our leaders and staff.
The synod will be making available our Zoom account for conference deans to utilize for online deanery and other gatherings. Additionally, every Thursday, starting this week, we will have a time of prayer/check-in at 10am on Zoom for leaders, https://zoom.us/j/686256906. Through our relationship with ELCA Coaching, free opportunities to be coached this week are being made available to help us make the next right step: https://www.ntnl.org/being-church-in-the-time-of-covid-19-elca-coaching-ministrys-response/. (They hope to offer weekly coaching sessions at a variety of days and times to encourage participation by all who are interested.) Finally, as bishop, the pastor of the synod, I reiterated the importance that we remember our identity in Christ and communicate and support each other in this time.
We are living and leading in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis. I urged our leaders and us all to be kind to ourselves and one another. To live into Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment to not lie or slander our neighbor but to “defend, speak well of, and explain their actions in the kindest way.”
Every crisis offers opportunity to learn, grow, and see God’s provision in our midst. This is an opportunity for us to expand our understanding of being #InMissionTogether. As we ended our time together, I closed with this benediction, and I give these “good words” to you as well…
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do God’s will, working among us that which is pleasing in God’s sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
In God’s Ever Present Abundance,
Bishop Erik K. J. Gronberg, PhD